UC Professor Cleans Coal Emissions

By: Liz Daubenmire

UC Professor Joo-Youp Lee, PhD has developed new technology used in cleaning emission out of coal-fired power plants.

Professor Joo-Youp Lee, PhD

Professor Joo-Youp Lee, PhD

Professor Joo-Youp Lee, PhD is a chemical engineer working hard to keep coal plant emissions as safe as possible.  Coal is a $46 billion business worldwide that unfortunately still faces the troublesome burden of extracting mercury remains efficiently.  Professor Lee recently developed an effective solution to this mercury problem which has proven to be, “robust, reliable, and cost effective.”

Typically factory emissions are cleaned via aqueous scrubbers located in the smoke stacks of power plants before being released into the air.  Mercury, however, has proven to be a particularly difficult element to clean.

Professor Lee explains, “It’s very difficult to capture elemental mercury vapor.  However, once elemental mercury is converted into oxidized mercury, it can be readily separated within the plant.” The technology that Professor Lee developed converts stubborn, “hard to reach” elemental mercury vapor into benign oxidized mercury using a catalyst (a substance increasing the rate of a chemical reaction).

He explains, “The catalyst has turned out to be robust, reliable, and cost effective in various coal combustion flue gases.  It also works in a wide temperature window, enabling flexible installation depending on individual plants’ different needs.” 

Previous methods of cleaning factory emissions called for precise placement of the air cleansing element.  Lee’s catalyst, however, can function in a wide range of temperatures, unlike fickle processes before.  It can also be installed in various parts of the smoke stack.

Lee’s development of this new technology was made possible with the support of his NSF CAREER Award, which started January 2012.

As a chemical engineer, Professor Lee is interested in a variety of fields. One of which is the new research area of mercury emissions which has generated more attention recently in the field of chemical engineering as a whole.  As he explains, mercury research is a, “Newly created market driven by new government regulations…  I started from fundamental academic research with a vision to develop a new technology with commercialization potential in the area of cleaner coal-fired power plant emissions, which has been estimated to be a $2-5 billion per year market.”

With the new catalyst development, Professor Lee and his team are ready to test a prototype for its performance evaluations at coal-fired power plants. 

Professor Lee and his team’s patented work will cut costs and air pollutants in coal burning power plants.  Since coal is still a main source of energy, the general public is sure to reap the benefits of Professor Lee’s clean air solution.

Much of the tri-state is fueled by coal- a source that is both plentiful and relatively cheap.  By reducing harmful emissions from coal burning power plants, the tri-state can continue to power up with coal and save.  Professor Lee’s development is not only saving Cincinnati money, but helping us all breathe a little easier.